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‘Kick in the guts’: Family of one-punch victim slam attacker’s ‘unfair’ sentence

‘Kick in the guts’: Family of one-punch victim slam attacker’s ‘unfair’ sentence
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Read Time:7 Minute, 14 Second

Less than a year ago, Kenneth Ball was healthy and happy and was working to save for his retirement – which was about two years away.

The 60-year-old’s plans included caravanning around Australia with his wife.

But in October last year, his life, and the lives of his family, changed forever when he was coward-punched by his daughter’s ex-partner Thomas James Short.

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In a police interview following the assault, Short, 38, said Kenneth’s “lights went out”.

The older man is now bound to a wheelchair, has lost his sight in one eye, and needs round-the-clock care.

He struggles to communicate and will likely never walk again — he’s not the same person.

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Short punched Kenneth for “no real reason” and was sentenced over the drug-fuelled attack last month in the South Australia District Court to a prison term of at least two years and 10 months.

But the time he has to spend in prison before being eligible for parole “is not justice”, his daughter Tammy said.

“He’s able to get out in just over two years now. He’s able to live his life. He’ll be 41. So he can just continue his life as per normal with only a small chunk of it missing … whereas my dad and my family have life sentences,” she said.

“A couple of years in jail is nothing compared to what he has done.”

Tammy and her dad Kenneth. Credit: Supplied

Judge Jo-Anne Deuter said in her sentencing remarks the type of attack was “catastrophic”.

“Your actions have far-reaching consequences for the Ball family,” Deuter said.

She acknowledged the sentence she handed down included a “relatively lenient” non-parole period.

With the sentence backdated to his arrest in October 2022, shortly following the assault, Short could be released from prison in about two years.

Angered by the sentence, Tammy is now calling for harsher sentencing for similar “sickening” assaults.

Life-altering assault

On the day of the attack, Short attended the Balls’ Aldinga Beach property — where Tammy lived with her parents — twice.

At the time, Short was under the effects of methylamphetamine.

“(Kenneth) actually had just finished work that day and come home, had his dinner and his life changed,” Tammy said.

The second time he visited the home that day, Short spoke to Kenneth before walking off with the older man behind him.

“Without further warning, you then hit Mr Ball and, in your own words, ‘laid him out’,” Judge Deuter said.

“You, of course, should never have been on the property.”

Kenneth and his wife. Credit: Supplied

The punch rendered Kenneth unconscious, and he fell back and hit his head on a tiled verandah. Short walked away.

A short time later, Kenneth was found unresponsive and an ambulance was called.

“The way my dad was found, he’s lucky to be alive,” Tammy said.

Kenneth had suffered severe traumatic head injuries and underwent emergency surgery, which included having part of his skull removed, and spent about seven weeks in a coma.

At the time of sentencing — some eight months after the attack — Kenneth had not yet been able to return home from hospital, having been admitted to a brain injury rehabilitation unit.

“Mr Ball had suffered significant brain function impairment,” Judge Deuter said.

“He continued to have great difficulty with processing information; with abstract thinking; and with communication.

“He has difficulty understanding conversations and cannot read or write due to both his cognitive issues and his left eye deficits.”

Kenneth now requires two people to help transfer him from his bed to a chair, and it’s likely he will be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

He is unable to stand without assistance. He needs to eat a modified diet and be supervised when eating to prevent choking.

Kenneth spent months in hospital. Credit: Supplied Kenneth had part of his skull removed following the assault. Credit: Supplied

He requires two nurses to assist with bed washes, is incontinent and needs assistance with toileting and personal care.

Kenneth is fully dependent on others for basic needs, and it’s likely he will have long-term physical, cognitive and communication impairments.

“Today’s his birthday,” Tammy said.

“He’ll have no idea it’s his birthday.

“He had to remember who me and my mum were by flashcards. He didn’t know who we were.

“My mum has lost a partner, really, because he’s not the same person.

“It’s changed everything for everybody forever.”

Sentence imposed

Short pleaded guilty to one count of recklessly causing serious harm over the assault — an offence which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years.

He received discounts on his sentence due to his guilty pleas and was sentenced to five years and two months in prison, with a non-parole period of two years and 10 months.

Judge Deuter could not find a motive or reason Short assaulted Kenneth that day, but acknowledged his intoxication.

“While the ingesting of illegal drugs may be an explanation for your offending, it is no excuse at all,” she said.

“As the impact of the drugs wore off, you became remorseful and continue to be very sorry for your actions.”

Thomas Short was jailed over the assault. Credit: Facebook

With his sentence being backdated to the day he was arrested shortly after the attack, Short could be released as early as August 2025.

One-punch assaults are often “in response to something totally out of proportion to any perceived threat … however the effects … are profound,” the judge said.

“In your case, Mr Short, you have left your victim in an extremely impaired state,” she said.

“His life has catastrophically changed by one punch. You ruined a man’s life in a brief moment of drug-affected violence.

At sentencing, Judge Deuter said the non-parole period was “relatively lenient” but said the longer parole period will assist in Short’s rehabilitation.

“This benefits both you and the community,” the judge said.

Kenneth was a hard-working and loving dad, grandad and husband before the attack changed his life. Credit: Supplied

Tammy was in court when Short was sentenced and said she felt “numb” at hearing the punishment imposed.

“I still feel half numb. It’s been rough,” she said.

She feels let down by the legal system and now wants to bring light to the sentence to highlight what she says is the injustice in her father’s attacker’s case and to call for harsher sentences for similar crimes.

“It’s a kick in the guts. The punishment is so lenient,” she said.

“Sentencing in general needs to be stronger for crimes like this to prevent people from doing it.

“What’s going to make people think twice if you’re only going to have to be in jail for just over two, nearly three years?”

Impact on family

Before the attack, Kenneth was “a hard-working, loving, caring, funny” person, Tammy said.

“He would do anything for anyone, including the guy who punched him,” she said.

Kenneth was “fully engaged” with his family, Judge Deuter said.

“(Tammy) says that you have taken away a father … and partner from his family,” the court heard.

As a result of the attack and the requirements of her dad’s care, Tammy shut down her business to care for her dad full-time and has also taken over his role in caring for her mum.

The ordeal has also caused the family a great deal of stress, anxiety and depression, she said.

Kenneth will never be the same again. Credit: Supplied

“It’s been a really hard experience for all of us,” Tammy said.

Tammy now fears for her safety and is considering moving home to protect herself and her family.

“Ms Ball fears what will happen once you are released from prison,” the judge said.

“She says that you have effectively destroyed hers and her parents’ lives.

“Her father will never be the man he was before the assault.

“Ms Ball’s future has completely changed … you have caused destruction and pain which simply will not go away.”

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